A design company just blew our minds—and maybe provided the spark to get airlines thinking about how they could really change things, for the better.
In a great article this week, Fast Company recounts three radical ideas from the innovative air-travel design shop Teague, which played a big part in designing the 787 Dreamliner and which, earlier this week, presented its latest vision at the Airline Passenger Experience Association Conference (yes, there is one, and it’s going on now). These ideas, as Fast Company puts it, “totally disrupt air travel.” If you weren’t at APEX (and we’re guessing most of you were not), here are the three innovations offered by Teague principal brand strategist Devin Liddell, whose company had the chutzpah to imagine an entirely new kind of airline—a fictional vision they named Poppi—and dared to ask these three questions:
What if planes carried no carry-on baggage?
I know, I know. Your first instinct is that this would suck. Where would you put your bag of crap inflight necessities. But Teague’s point is that you don’t need all that crap necessities with you. You really only need a personal item—really, how often do you really open the overhead bin during the flight to get something? It’s so rare (and so annoying when some noob does it) that it’s frankly amazing that no one ever questioned the need for it before. Plus, so much time is wasted trying to board everyone with their carry-on bags, clogging the aisles while trying find space in the overhead bin. If that entire time suck was eliminated, Liddell calculates we could improve the speed of boarding by 71 percent—and shave off $25 million in fuel costs each year due to less weight. Teague even has an idea for what to do with the savings: use them to deliver checked luggage right to passengers’ hotel rooms. Of course, no one can promise passengers will see the benefit of that savings, but hey, a design studio can’t do everything.
What if middle seats were the best seats on the plane?
Teague suggests turning middle seats into a “promotional class,” instead of the “totally screwed class,” by inviting forward-thinking brands to take over the seats and offer those middle passengers something different. The brands would get a captive audience and the passenger would get an exclusive gift box, or maybe the chance to test out new games, or nab a huge discount off custom items if they purchase them while inflight. Liddell points out that in this scenario, everyone wins: airlines can make money by selling the seats to brands, brands get access to the passenger, and the passenger gets some exclusive swag.
True, there’s something a little icky about this (though not quite as bald-faced as lugging suitcases wrapped in ads), but the possibility for genuinely cool perks or opportunities lifts this advertising-based idea above the usual feeling of shallow grabs for your hard-earned money. We can leave that to the airline itself.
What if airlines offered membership programs?
Teague isn’t limiting its thinking to plain old miles programs. Instead, Liddell asked: What if you could pay an annual fee to an airline and get perks and privileges, the way you do from Amazon Prime, for example, or enroll in a plan to purchase pre-paid flights? “Without a doubt, introducing the membership model in some way to air travel would have the most positive effect for both passengers and airlines,” Liddell told Yahoo Travel. “This concept, which is so important to the Poppi experience, would help airlines escape fare commoditization, and give passengers far more rewarding and meaningful ways to engage with the airline than what airlines offer now.” For instance, in the Poppi exercise, the airline has an app that would allow passengers to resell their seats. A transaction fee would go to the airline (again Teague is always looking to make all parties come out with a win), but it’s the passengers who’d be in control of the swap. “Membership models could totally transform an airline,” Liddell continued, “from its revenue streams to its long-term relationships with passengers. You don’t like our idea for no luggage in the cabin? Fine. But take a long look at what a membership model could do for your brand. For the happiness of your passengers and the happiness of your bottom line.”
Of course, not everything Teague dreamed up in its brainstorming sessions made it to their APEX presentation. We asked Liddell about some of the other ideas his team has brewing, and he told us about two particularly cool ones: “With Poppi, we are really interested in on-demand food and beverage service, so we had lots of concepts that involved robotic delivery of food and beverage to passengers, including an ‘aisle bot’ that is slim enough that passing passengers could walk past it in the aisle.” They had a similar automated idea about baggage checking and claim, but put that off for now. “We believe autonomous vehicles will absolutely be part of the solution in the future,” Liddell said, “it was just that they might be at the farther end of the 5-10 year future we wanted to work within right now.”
Because although response to the Poppi ideas has been positive, it remains to be seen if airlines are really ready to implement them. Teague might still be just a bit ahead of its time.
What air travel innovations and new ideas would you like to see?
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This article was originally published by Yahoo! Travel under the headline Three Ideas That Could Change Air Travel Forever. It is reprinted here with permission.
(Photo at top: Thinkstock/iStock)